halotolerant (halotolerant) wrote in 1973flashfic,
halotolerant
halotolerant
1973flashfic

Beauty Challenge by halotolerant

Title: Brave New World
Pairing: Gene/OMC, Gene/Sam
Rating: Blue Cortina
Words: ~2,250
Notes: When I saw this week's challenge, another bunny for Gene's backstory hit me. This could but does not have to be a sequel to Make Do and Mend.
Summary:  'How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in't' (Miranda, The Tempest, V, i)

“You look like you could use a good meal” Bud had said. First thing he ever said to Gene, who’d been standing at a distance leaning on the alley wall, watching him dole out the legendary supplies of GI sweets to the local kids.

 

“Me and the rest of the country” Gene had replied, squaring up his shoulders. “Piss off” he’d added, for good measure.

 

“Seriously, man, you tell me somewhere I can get something other than horse, I’ll buy you dinner.”

 

“Shouldn’t you be asking a girl?”

 

Bud had smiled, broad and charming, like Clark Gable or someone. “Well, you’re here, aren’t you? Why should I wait?”

 

It was 1945 and Gene was fifteen. It wasn’t like his life had made a lot of sense to him before, but in recent years he’d started to feel like he was groping through a forest in the dark, with no idea where he meant to end up.

 

The war was going to be over soon, everyone knew that. They were going to have a new world, a new future.

 

Gene couldn’t see how that would ever apply to him.

 

He’d left school a relatively popular boy, through his physical courage if nothing else, without being close friends with anyone. In his new job at the docks, where employers stripped of a male workforce would happily sign him off as of legal working age, he found it hard to know how to interact with the older men.

 

Now, when Bud had propositioned him, he’d felt a familiar confusion over it, marked it down to weird American habits and assumed, somehow, that if he refused he’d look scared, sissy, uncertain.

 

And he was bloody hungry. It felt like a deep cold hole inside him.

 

- - -

 

“This ain’t the Ritz, huh?”

 

“That’s in London.” Gene replied, without humour.

 

“You’re a strange one and no mistake” Bud drawled, grinning as he snapped his gum, and attempted to cut another slice from his whale meat steak. “Shit, how is this country still alive? This food is…not food.”

 

“If you wanted proper meat you could have stayed in your base.” Gene pushed more mashed potato onto his already loaded fork and gulped it down. It was the first protein he’d had in two weeks and he really didn’t care what Bud thought of it, or him, or England - he was going to fill his stomach.

 

“Yeah, but then I’d’ve missed your scintillating company” Bud replied sarcastically, with the grin still plastered on his face.

 

Gene raised an eyebrow and shrugged. “Your funeral, mate.”

 

“So how’s your war been then?” Bud asked, with an extremely irritating mock seriousness, putting down his knife and scooping his own vegetables to his mouth, fork in his right hand.

 

“Don’t remember when there wasn’t one” Gene replied thickly, through the mash.

 

“You guys have had it pretty tough, huh?”

 

“Yeah” Gene muttered, taking a great gulp of his water and wondering if he could ask for seconds.

 

- - -

 

Gene felt afterwards that it must have been some charitable act on Bud’s part, taking out a local guttersnipe for a decent meal, because he couldn’t see that Bud got anything out of it.

 

But the next week, on Friday, Bud was hanging around the alley again, giving out liquorice whips, and made the same offer.

 

“Where the hell have you been then?” Stuart asked when Gene finally got in, stuffed with (whale)steak and onion pie. “I kept dinner waiting.”

 

He indicated the sorry, cold plate of boiled potatoes on the table.

 

“Went out with my mates” Gene replied defensively.

 

“Nah, you don’t have any.” Stuart got up from the sofa, picked up the plate and stuck it under Gene’s nose. “We’ve got bloody food!” he yelled, “I can feed yer, OK? Whatever you’re up to, you don’t need to do it, ‘cos you don’t have to. I won’t let you get into trouble. Tell them from me, they’re not dragging you into the racket.”

 

“I don’t even know what you mean!” Gene yelled back, “And you call that bloody food?” He brushed past, knocking over the plate, and ran upstairs.

 

On his bed he lay flat, gripping the mattress in both hands, feeling like something was spinning.

 

- - -

 

“I’m twenty-two” Bud replied, shoving his hand into the chip packet. “I come from California, US of A. My family are fruit pickers, moved there in the Depression from Oklahoma. We had the greatest farm in Oklahoma – I used to chase the crickets round behind the porch, go fishing in the river, play cowboy in the hills. California’s prettier, but it sure as hell ain’t as much fun.”

 

“I’ve never been out of Manchester” Gene confided, licking at the salt on his finger tips. “Never want to, neither.”

 

“I was glad to travel, when this all kicked off in Europe. I had dreams that kinda… went beyond what the family wanted, you could say.”

 

Gene made a noise that he hoped suggested he knew what Bud meant.

 

“What’s your family like then?” Bud continued, “Homely folk?”

 

Gene got up from the low wall on the hilltop bombsite where they’d been sitting. “You got any fags?”

 

“Sure. Benson and Hedges do you?”

 

Gene took two, pressing one behind his ear. He’d give it to Stuart later, an apology for the way he was going to be late, again.

 

Bud, still seated on the wall, watched him for a moment. “You got a girl?”

 

“Tons of ‘em” Gene snapped back, lighting up carefully. The lighter was just a cheap Bakelite thing, but it had been the first thing he’d ever bought with his own wages and he adored it for that.

 

Didn’t mean it worked any better.

 

“Come here” Bud called, beckoning, producing his own mock-silver lighter. He made the flame spring up, cupped his hand around Gene’s as it held the cigarette and touched it alight. He chuckled softly, “Gee, that vinegar they use here! I can smell it on your hand.”

 

Gene looked sharply up at him, not sure if he was being mocked.

 

“Yeah…” he said slowly, “I can smell it on your breath and all.”

 

Bud’s lips parted in a smile, and Gene heard the tiniest of sounds from the moist surfaces of his mouth sliding across each other. His own lips felt dry, his tongue large and awkward, his hands too warm.

 

“I have to go home now” Gene said.

 

He’d dropped the cigarette without noticing. On the ground it still sparked and gleamed, small red heat pulsing in the dark, smoke rising thin and tiny but determined.

 

- - -

 

For three weeks, there was no sign of Bud.

 

Gene was invited out to the pub with some of the blokes at the docks, and had uproarious and tipsy fun, at least as far as the alcohol rationing permitted. A man called Steve clapped him on the back and called him ‘a good ’un’, and they showed him some nude pin-up girl pictures just to scream with laughter when he blushed.

 

He was still late home, but this time Stuart didn’t seem to mind, only ruffled his hair and laughed unhelpfully at his hangover the next day.

 

After a few more days, one of the little girls from next door accosted him in the alleyway and asked when ‘the nice sweetie man’ was coming back.

 

“The fuck should I know?” Gene snarled, going back inside.

 

He stopped checking after that.

 

- - -

 

“No chance, love” the woman in the nightclub said, after he’d mumbled out some line Steve had told him to say. “You look like a beanpole on a hungry day. I like my men to be of some capacity, if you take my meaning.”

 

From across the room, a chorus of guffaws met his burning ears.

 

Mortified as he was, though, there was a sense of relief in the back of his mind that he wouldn’t have to…be with her. It sounded sticky and unpleasant and…

 

He got in a fight, later, punching the man good, ramming him against a wall and kneeing him in the groin, the cheers of his audience helping remove the sting from earlier.

 

“Queer!” he spat at the bloke, not for any particular reason, but because it was a good word. “Queer bleeding Jessie fruity poof!”

 

If he’d never got anything else from his Dad, at least he’d inherited a very impressive vocabulary.

 

- - -

 

Late in June, Gene’s Dad came home from one of his odd months sleeping on a mate’s floor in Liverpool, and the precious peace Gene and Stuart had managed to build between them fell away.

 

They both went out in the evenings, every evening, always separately. Gene felt an increasing unease that he had no idea what Stuart did, or with who, but he didn’t ask, because if the question were to be reciprocated he could scarcely explain that he walked up the hill and sat on a bombed wall and thought about things too much.

 

- - -

 

Gene was coming back from a long shift, tired and bone-weary, every muscle strained and singing pain at him, sick of feeling hungry all the time, sick of not being powerful, sick of his own youth.

 

“You look like you could use a good meal.”

 

Gene swung round, squinting in the dark. “Bud?”

 

“Gene.” And Bud stepped forward from the shadows, still grinning like a bloody movie actor, still looking a bit like Clark Gable, though Gene had found himself thinking only the other day that actually Clark Gable looked a lot like Bud. “Gene, buddy, do you want to go for a meal or something?”

 

“What is up with you?” Gene felt an insane kind of anger rising inside him, racing over his skin, thrumming up his pulse. “You can’t just disappear for weeks and then…why the hell would you want to have dinner with me? I have ordinary friends now, who don’t ask stupid questions or, or…talk about things.”

 

Bud looked young, then, as he recoiled from Gene’s anger, and for a second Gene could see him, a few years and a war or so ago, chasing grasshoppers in the sun.

 

“My father has probably been sick on the carpet again” Gene ploughed on, not meaning to speak but somehow doing it anyway, words pouring like blood from a sudden cut, “My brother…I don’t know how to help him, and I can’t thank him because we don’t…. My job is awful. This town is a pisshole and this country is one big cabbage smell, and you just disappeared, you just went, and I haven’t had fish and chips for weeks and weeks.”

 

He’d pushed Bud against the wall, violently, automatically, hackles rising for a fight. They were much of a height, and though Gene was too skinny to be likely to win any encounter, he had already developed a vicious tenacity in fighting that had seen off many a larger opponent.

 

So when the hands came down on his shoulders, he ought to have hit back. That was how fights worked.

 

When Bud’s hands came down, stroking fearfully, like you would with a dog you didn’t know; Gene shouldn’t have stood there and let him. Shouldn’t have looked at his face - at least, shouldn’t have wanted to.

 

It is probably worth mentioning that no one had touched Gene like that, and meant to, since Bud had clasped his hand near the wall. Before that, well, even Gene couldn’t remember.

 

“They sent me on a training assignment” Bud was saying, looking into his eyes with a kind of fear that Gene didn’t understand, any more than he understood why his stomach was flopping and his chest getting tighter. “And I don’t have to talk; my Momma always said I did it too much.”

 

“And” he continued, face closer, somehow, “And I would want to spend time with you, because you’re the most fucking beautiful thing in England, or didn’t you know that?”

 

And a second later, Gene was flying, tumbling, warm and thrilled and burning to breathe and hungry and desperate and ecstatic and just beginning to register that this was kissing, then.

 

He moved his hands from grabbing at Bud’s lapels to behind his head, and when Bud gently opened his mouth and let Gene into it, Gene collapsed into him a little, and realised Bud was hard too.

 

“God, I love it when you smile” Bud murmured, moving his hand until Gene couldn’t keep from moaning, couldn’t keep from making Bud gasp into his neck and kiss him all over again.

 

- - -

 

“Who’s B?” Sam asks, looking at the underside of the silver-plated hip-flask he’s just drained.

 

Gene growls and snatches it back. “You bloody finished it, you pillock! That’s the last of my good scotch!”

 

“Who’s B?” Sam asks again, like a bloody dog with a ball it wants thrown.

 

“B was the reason I started drinking that stuff properly” Gene replies, cryptically. “I guess you could say he showed me what I was missing.”

 

“Like what, a sense of health and of sensible alcohol intake?” Sam toys with the flask, turning it upside down. “Honestly, Guv, one of these days…”

 

“Yeah, something like that” Gene murmurs, not listening.

 

Thinking too much.

 

He looks in the Cortina’s wing mirror and then turns away, grimacing.

 

The metal of the flask had been warm from Sam’s hand, Sam’s fingers lithe and hot as Gene had grabbed it away. For a moment Gene had almost forgotten himself, his self, what he was now.

 

“You hungry?” he asks, anyway. “’Cos I feel like I’ve got a bloody deep cold hole inside.”

Tags: beauty challenge
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